April 18, 2006 [LINK]

Agonizingly slow count in Peru

Alan Garcia still retains a slim lead [in the race for second place], but conservative candidate Lourdes Flores is narrowing the gap as overseas ballots are counted. She is currently about 84,000 votes behind Alan Garcia, with almost 91 percent of the votes tabulated. Up to this point, she has been getting about 60 percent of the expatriate Peruvian votes, to about 17 percent for Garcia and 12 percent for front-runner Ollanta Humala. Garcia seems to be confident of taking second place, as he has urged his party members not to question the validity of the overseas ballots. It is interesting that his party (APRA) and the party of Flores (National Unity) have begun discussing forming a pro-democracy front as a joint response to the threat posed by the radical populist, Humala. (He has about 31 percent right now.) Former president Alberto Fujimori is no doubt pleased that his daughter Keiko won the greatest number of votes of all the congressional candidates from the city of Lima. See CNN.com and El Comercio of Peru (in Spanish).

I've been doing some projections of election results, and have determined that Flores needs to get at least an eight percent margin above Garcia among the votes not yet counted in order to take second place. Assuming that current trends continue, and assuming that about one fourth of the remaining votes (nine percent of the total) are from overseas, that is a very real prospect. The newspaper La Republica casts doubt on that, however, based on a lower estimate of the total number of expatriate votes. (I always had the impression that they were more sympathetic to APRA compared to most other newspapers in Peru.) Apparently, no one really knows how many yet-uncounted votes there are. The Peruvian National Electoral Office announced that the vote tabulation will be completed by the end of this month. If it ends up as close [as I expect], it could easily take a week or two longer, possibly forcing a postponement of the second round election until early June.

Alvaro Vargas Llosa, a conservative scholar with the Independent Institute, is very pessimistic about the second round election. He contends that Ollanta Humala has three key advantages: broad appeal in the various regions of Peru, a general shift toward the left in the Peruvian electorate, and the fact that any alliance between Flores and Garcia in the second round would play into the hands of those who are deeply discontented with the status quo. Ironically, Ollanta's populist approach would only exacerbate the pathological policies and corrupt practices that hinder economic opportunity in Peru. Vargas Llosa writes that entrusting Humala with responsibility for the nation would be like putting the fox in the hen house. He is the son of Mario Vargas Llosa, the renowned author and former presidential candidate who lost to Fujimori in 1990. (Hat tip to Dennis Neal.)